As a child I thought bravery meant not crying, keeping your word and standing up to bullies. I also thought it included not showing fear and not making "silly" noises when confronted with something scary.
As I got older I realised most of that was antiquated rubbish from the pre and post war era, still lingering around like a bad smell from people who had their hair clipped "when we were your age" and had possibly done national service.
At about 10 or 11 when I started fancying girls I thought bravery meant actually being able to ask a girl out. I would add into that also that bravery meant not showing any emotion AT ALL if she laughed at me. Bravery extended to continuing to be stoic if, months later the girl in question and her friends would point at me and giggle as I walked past.
Watching far too much television, films and reading shed loads of violent comics and books, I had rather moulded ideas as to what bravery could and did encompass.
Bravery when being tortured by baddies would mean keeping your mouth shut and if necessary, dying to protect secrets. It was only much later in life that I realised that no matter how hard someone is, if you attack their testicles with nut crackers or flay them alive, then they are 99% certain to confess to everything including the assassination of JFK.
Bravery was a long list of things but most of them came under the sub headings of stoicism, suppression of emotion, standing up for yourself and not being afraid to voice an opinion/ answer back.
I considered myself Not Brave for a long list of perceived failures. I don't know about now but in the 1980s, if you were attacked by another kid or even a teacher, be it verbally or physically then unless you were known to be "hard" you had to just batten down the hatches and take it until the storm of abuse had passed.
What a pansy!
Not answering back as 'Errol' stole my lunch money and stamped on my foot for half heartedly attempting to stop him. Not saying or doing anything as 'Chubs' repeatedly punched me in the face while I simply stood there crying.
Growing up there were a multitude of situations where I kept my mouth shut and to this day feel resentment for doing so. My aunt remarried a rather loathsome businessman named Barry. Very rich, very successful and a complete and utter cunt. Racist, right wing and judgmental of anyone below the 40% tax threshold, he once told a story at the FUCKING DINNER TABLE in my house about how he'd got an attack of the "screaming abdabs" while visiting a tyre factory and had shit himself. He stood up to mime how he'd been waddling with his undies full of excrement while everyone sat there and simply said nothing (or in my aunt and mother's case, giggled appreciatively like it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard). If I had tried to tell the same story I'd have been shouted down or made to leave the table within the first couple of sentences. I wanted with every fibre of my being, to plunge a fork into the ill mannered fuckwit's eye sockets...but of course I didn't.
What a pansy!
Suppressing how I felt and simply "taking it" became a part and parcel of life. Problem was that when I got into my early twenties I then began to get a little more stubborn. I'd argue a 'little bit' and regard that as 'better than nothing' when I reflected on the incident later.
When I got into my thirties my obstinacy had become obnoxious but rarely productive. I'd stand my ground in arguments and tell people to go fuck themselves but it was mainly because I considered that the alternative was to simply stand there and take it and if I did that well...
What a pansy!
I joined the
police in 2006 and never once stood up to my Sergeant, a 'man' who bullied me until I quit the job. I did however get my own back by writing a book about what he'd done. But did I get my own back? Maybe not. UK
When I was in my late thirties my father told me over a beer the following opinion.
"You're not a coward Lance, you are in fact very brave. You're prepared to stand your ground but you just can't fight".
Later as I took up Krav Maga and tried to adopt the philosophies about Conflict Resolution and what the UK head Jon Bullock calls "the least creative option" to solve problems I realised that bravery is a lot more complicated than simply standing still and taking a beating to prove I wasn't a sissy.
Bravery can and does include keeping my mouth shut. I had a row recently with a rude man in Boots (chemists) in town. What started off as me telling him that I didn't' like how he was speaking to two female cashiers, quickly devolved into a Monkey Dance that would have (as Rory Miller said), looked highly impressive to a female chimpanzee.
Bravery to me used to mean walking down that dark, narrow lane to prove that I wasn't going to be intimidated. Bravery was standing up to a guy (who was with about 5 of his mates) for insulting a woman I was with. Bravery was refusing to be the one that reversed when in a narrow bit of road where only one car can pass, and both of us took the initiative and now someone has to back up.
Bravery can include these things but something I've found recently, partly through Krav and partly through just being alive for 45 years, is that bravery can also be going the 'long way round' to avoid that narrow lane. It could be NOT confronting that racist guy who insulted my lady friend. It could also be biting the bullet and putting the gear stick in reverse.
Bravery includes being able to swallow pride and anger and let yourself be humiliated if it is necessary to avoid potentially greater nastiness. A Krav Maga instructor I know is Expert level 3 (black belt 3rd dan equivalent) and when in a verbal argument in London with a big guy who had queue jumped, he showed submission and lowered eye contact. He has my respect for this as it took what Mr Miller calls the Human Brain to be this controlled and above all lacking in ego to resolve it this way.
Being able to take the path of less badassery or what may feel like the 'coward's way' is one of the bravest things you can do, if it is to resolve a situation in a way you 100% feel is the right one, not just the easiest one.
A quote I read years ago sums this up for me:
"A true hero is someone who does what he does not knowing if anyone will ever find out why he did it".